The following is from The African Queen by C. S. Forester

For a moment it appeared as if he was explaining the failure of his life to the tribunal before which he was so soon to appear.

"The poor mission," he said, and - "It was the Germans, the Germans."

He died very soon after that.....

Does the bold mean the mission which doesn't meet the expectation or the mission for the poor?

  • -1 absolutely zero research shown @whitecap, show some effort at research. Indicate which dictionaries you have checked, and which definitions of poor you have considered, and why those definitions do not work for you. See details please Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 4:58
  • I use at least 4~5 online dictionaries. Sometimes 7~ 10 (including my mother tongue dictionaries) Do you want me to list all of them every time I ask a question here? Out of those definitions, I found the two I thought fit the context. But I've learned I was obviously wrong thanks to Mike Kozar. Clare, rest assured. I painstakingly study and research before I put up a question here.
    – whitecap
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 7:09
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    @whitecap Surely you would want whoever answers your question to give you an answer complete with research or at least some corroborating source? Otherwise, how can you trust the person answering isn't just making something up? In the same way we like to see those who ask questions have done their own research first, and aren't just asking because they can't be bothered to type a phrase into Google. You might be surprised how often that happens. :(
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 7:25
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    @whitecap You certainly don't have to list every source -- even one is enough to show you've made an effort. In this case, given the context, it's unlikely that this is a "mission for the poor", don't you think, since there is no mention of charity? So what other definitions seem related to "explaining the failure of his life"?
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 7:31
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    @whitecap I thought your question was quite clear and showed context correctly. You asked if "Poor mission" meant failing to meet expectations, which is definition #2 on Google. You asked if "Poor mission" meant a mission for those facing poverty, which is definition #1 on Google. I hope I was able to show why definition #3 was more correct; If you agree, please mark this question resolved. :)
    – user11628
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 1:59

1 Answer 1


The clue to the meaning is in the second sentence, "It was the Germans, the Germans." The way the character speaks, as well as the mention of failure, makes this sound like the Germans are to blame for something.

If the mission itself were poor, meaning it lacked resources, then the blame would fall on the mission's leaders. If the leaders had failed to equip the mission properly, we would expect them to be named characters, and not simply "The Germans".

If the mission were on behalf of the poor, a native speaker would say "the relief mission", "the charity mission", or more likely just "the mission". Also notice that the author is focused on the failure, not the details of the mission.

I believe that the author is using a third definition for "poor", meaning unfortunate or deserving of pity. This echos the line about failure, and the character's death, as well as explains why they might blame "the Germans". In this interpretation, we might rephrase the sentence like so:

"The mission came to a tragic end," he said, and - "It was [due to the actions of] the Germans."

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    Sorry to accept your answer so late. My mind was somewhere else as I have been harassed by someone from this site. Thank you for your answer.
    – whitecap
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 3:04

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